While photographing stegosaur footprints, three teenagers have no idea they’re about to witness not only a murder but the theft of priceless dinosaur fossils. Abba, Giles and James are literally up to their necks in water that could contain saltwater crocodiles, having trespassed in the National Park at midnight. Now they’ve stumbled on a deadly, fossil-smuggling ring. Their only proof is a set of photographs that includes the murderer, but an International Crime gang isn’t about to let three teenagers get in its way!
GENRE: Young Adult Thriller ISBN: 978-1-925191-63-9 ASIN: B01EX9VV1K Word Count: 42, 295
The floater, as Damien whisperingly called it, drifted closer. Two more rippling waves and it would bump into Abba. She edged away, the pool was small and there was no more room on their submerged ledge.
“Can you see it?” shouted a voice.
“No,” yelled the man who was standing immediately above them on the overhanging rock.
Abba wondered if he was the man they’d seen hit the floater with a hammer and continue hitting him as he stumbled across the rocks and into the sea.
She held her breath as the floater’s pudgy hand bobbed closer to her bare arm. It was the same colour as her T-shirt, a washed-out yellow. Suntan, her mind automatically registered. He’s a local.
Then, as the floater swivelled round in the current and bobbed straight towards her, she stepped off the ledge and trod water so that its longish hair wouldn’t streak across her face.
A wave splashed over her, filling her mouth with salty water, and for the hundredth time she asked herself why she had been so stupid as to offer to show her biggest secret to Jimmy Chadwick – someone she’d met on the Internet, and who she had only met in the flesh two days ago. And why, oh why, hadn’t she backed out when he’d brought along snobby Damian.
But she knew why and neither reason was one to be proud of. She had wanted to show off to Jimmy because he knew so much about Dinosaurs, her most favourite subject on earth: and because he’d offered to send her copies of his pterosaur fossil photographs once he returned to Sydney. Pterosaurs, with their hairy reptile bodies and bat-like wings, were her favourite dinos. So how could she not try to impress Jimmy? He was so cute with his earnest grey eyes and sticking-up blonde hair.
As for Damian, with his floppy hair, labelled jeans, ironed Mambo T-shirt and snobby way of saying ‘It’s Damian with one M, not two’, the only reason she’d agreed to let him come was because she’d suddenly had the idea that by being nice to him, his father might help her mother get a better job. She wasn’t sure how, but the enormous mining company that the all-powerful Padres East worked for also owned the string of hotels, which included the Broome Summon Hotel where her mother worked as night receptionist, so it was worth a try.
Of course everything had gone wrong. Just as her grandfather would have predicted if he had known what she was up to. She could hear his voice in her ear as another froth-filled wave splashed over her. “Abba. Abba. Abba, you do something for the wrong reasons and the wrong reason will punch you in the face.”
Which, she thought as a third wave slapped her in the face, was exactly what had happened from the moment they’d taken the hotel’s bicycles in the middle of the night without telling anyone. First Damien had buckled his bike’s wheel, then they’d seen a murder, and now they were neck deep in water with a very good chance of the man with the torch seeing them. A torch beam pierced the darkness, barely missing the floater and Abba’s dark curly hair.
Jimmy grabbed her T-shirt and heaved her back onto the ledge just as the incoming tide pushed the floater up against them. Damian pushed it away, but it persistently returned, nudging them in a friendly way as if it too wanted to remain hidden in the deep shadow of the rocks, away from the brutal men above.
Jimmy gagged noisily as the body’s gym shoe hooked around his neck. Abba stared at him, as if the very size of her shocked black eyes would stop him making a noise. It did.
After a few seconds, which felt like hours for the submerged teenagers, the man with the torch moved away and Damian pushed the body out to sea again.
The rock pool was filling fast. Soon their mouths would be covered and they would have to swim for it. Swimming was not Jimmy’s best sport, in fact no sport was; but swimming in the open sea was his worst.
“Are you sure there are no saltwater crocs this far south?” he whispered.
“Not normally,” Abba whispered back. “They hang out around the earl farms further north.”
“Which is about fifteen kilometres away,” added Damien. “A mere skip and a jump for the average four metre estuarine croc–who has been known to swim hundreds of kilometres.”
Jimmy stared at Damien. It was the first time he had heard him say anything the slightest bit knowledgeable.
“Shut up Damien, you’re frightening him,” Abba hissed.
“I’m not fir…”
“Have you found him?” shouted a voice so close that it shocked the teenagers into silence.
“No. He’s probably half way to India,” answered a second voice, from just above their heads.
“And good riddance, the thieving turd,” answered the first.
“Zen let us get to work,” yelled a third voice from further away. “Ze tide is coming in.”
“What if he isn’t dead?” shouted the closest man.
“Then he soon will be. Now hurry up.”
The teenagers listened to the two men’s footsteps as they scrambled back over the gravel and rocks. A few minutes later the hammering and sawing started. Abba counted twenty muted thumps before whispering. “I think we can get out of here now.”
Jimmy held his camera under her nose. “I can’t swim and keep my camera dry at the same time. It’s not an underwater camera.”
“Give it to me, I can.”
Abba waited until a wave was coming in then she launched herself into the frothy black water, breast-stroking with one arm, while holding the camera above her head with the other. Four strokes and she’d reached a flat, accessible rock. Jimmy came next, splashing too loudly, she thought, as she hauled him up beside her.
Next came Damian, gliding through the water like a fish. But of course, she thought resentfully, that is exactly how Damien East would swim. His posh private school probably had individual swimming instructors. Pity they didn’t give him bike-riding lessons. Her mother was going to be furious about the hotel bike’s buckled wheel.
Damien hoisted himself up beside Jimmy. Behind them the body rocked like a piece of driftwood, its arms outstretched and its bruised face facing the sea-urchin-strewn sea floor. He pushed back his longish hair so it hooked behind his ears and whispered. “So what do you think will happen to him…it?”
Abba shrugged slightly. “It’ll be sucked out into the ocean and most likely never be seen again.”
“But that’s not right. He’s been murdered. Someone has to catch the murderer,” said Jimmy forgetting to keep his voice low.
“Did you hear that?” demanded a voice, not as far away as Abba had thought it should be. “There is someone here.”
The three held their breath.
“You’re imagining things,” came a curt answer.
Then the hammering began again.
Abba stretched up so she could see where the men were. They were close to where she had pulled away the seaweed and removed the rocks that she used to hide the four stegosaurus’ fossilised footprints.
Jimmy had taken at least thirty photographs of the footprints before the tide began washing the seaweed back over them. Then they’d heard the men coming across the rocks. As they were in a National Park, and no one was supposed to be there at night –including themselves–they hid amongst the rocks, hoping the men were fishermen and that they would move on. They hadn’t. Instead they’d argued over money. One was demanding a larger share and threatening to tell someone if he didn’t get it, when the taller one–the one with the white hair–bashed him with a hammer.
Now they were hammering and chiselling at the rock. But why? To secure the rope of a lobster pot or fish trap perhaps. But this wasn’t the right place to lower a trap or pot, and the men weren’t dressed like fishermen. Two were wearing long trousers and long-sleeved shirts. The only time Broome men dressed like that was when they were getting married or going to a funeral.
Abba bobbed down again. “Do we drag the floater up onto the rocks so that the sharks and fish can’t mangle it before we escape and ring the police? Or do we get out of here fast, then ring the police and let them find it in the water, if they can?”
Damien couldn’t believe his ears. Why was this stupid girl wanting to get them involved in this mess? Couldn’t she see they were already neck deep in sh…Trouble? How was he going to explain the buckled bicycle wheel? The stolen buckled bicycle wheel to be exact. How was he going to explain having left the Sunmoon Hotel when his father had thought he was watching a re-re-run of Star Wars in Jimmy’s room? What lies was he going to have to invent to get himself out of this mess? Ringing the police was out of the question.
“Or we don’t ring the police,” he hissed. “We aren’t supposed to be here. Remember?”
Abba ignored him and raised her fine dark eyebrows questioningly at Jimmy.
Jimmy wasn’t sure what she was asking. Was it: do we phone the police? Or was it why did you bring this whingeing woos along?
He’d already told her why when they’d bicycled ahead of Damien. His father had said that Damien’s father had asked him if Damien could hang out with Jimmy while they were attending the same conference. Jimmy’s father had said it would be a kind thing to do and that he would feel more comfortable about Jimmy going out so late with Abba if another boy was going along. As if going bike-riding with a girl was a date or something. Or even a girlfriend-boyfriend thing.
Jimmy knew that his father felt about the girlfriend-boyfriend thing, because two years ago on his fifteenth birthday he’d been given the divided-brain lecture. Which began with, “If a boy is thinking about girls all the time, he can’t study,” And ended with, “A divided brain cannot study successfully enough to pass exams, so your mother and I would prefer it you gave girls a miss until you finish high school matriculated and are enrolled in uni.”
FINISH HIGH SCHOOL!THAT WAS TWO YEARS AWAY! He’d be ancient by then.
“So if Damien East, goes can I go?” he’d asked again.
His father stopped revising his speech on why the proposed gas mining of the Murray-Darling Basin could destroy the local flora and fauna and focused his attention Jimmy.
“Why do you have to start off so late?”
“Because that is the only time the tide is far enough out for the footprints to be seen. And even then it is only a few times a year. We’re lucky to be here now.”
“How long will you be?”
“If we leave by eleven we will be back by one.”
“And this girl. How old is she? And how did you meet her?”
“She’s seventeen and she’s a fossil freak like me. In fact she is the only one who knows where the footprints are. She discovered them while snorkelling for beche-de-mer. You know, those big sea worms that look like cucumber? Her grandfather sells them to the Chinese.”
“I know what a beche-de-mer looks like, Jimmy. I helped save them from over-harvesting. I thought only Aborigines were allowed to fish for them around here.”
Jimmy spoke up quickly, worried that he’d gotten Abba into trouble. “Abba’s grandmother was Aboriginal, which makes Abba one-quarter Aboriginal. Dad, honestly! Four matching stegosaurus footprints! It would be the best photograph ever!”
“You promise it isn’t dangerous.”
“It’s as dangerous as going to the cinema.”
“All right! But only if you take Damien along. And only if you are back by one.”
So, although he didn’t like Damien East much, Jimmy had asked him to come along; and Damien, who’d said he’d have to say he was watching videos in Jimmy’s room, had agreed, but only because he was bored witless with the hotel.
When the boys met at 11’clock, Abba was not pleased to see Damien, mainly because within minutes it was clear he wasn’t a good bike rider, and she showed it by her huffy silence. Then after he introduced himself as “Damien with one M, not two”, and Abba said that her name was Abigail but she preferred Abba because she was an ABBA music fan, at which he’d sneered, “How retro!” she decided that Damien with one M not two, was not on her best friend list and that she would ignore him.
Which she’d done successfully until they were riding towards Gantheaume Point and Damien rode into a huge rock and bucked his bike’s front wheel. After that they’d wheeled the bikes along the sand-covered track towards Reddell Beach with Jimmy and Abba talking about dinosaurs and Damien following behind sighing loudly to show he was bored.
“He’s a sulk,” breathed Abba. “I wish you hadn’t brought him.”
Jimmy nodded. Staring down at the bobbing body, he wished that not only had he not brought Damien, but that he hadn’t brought himself either.
“So,” said Abba, taking their silence as agreeing with her idea of what they should do, “We’ll drag the floater up onto the rocks and leave it under that ledge for the police to find. Only quietly, because sound travels.”
“Which is a good reason for forgetting it and getting out of here,” hissed Damien.
Abba frowned hard at him. “We will, once we have secured it.”
“And once I have taken a photograph as proof,” added Jimmy focussing his camera.
Damien’s blue eyes looked almost silver in the moonlight as he grabbed Jimmy’s arm. “Are you insane? They’ll see the flash.”
He’s scared. The posh Damien in his labelled clothes is scared stiff, thought Abba as she put her hand on Damien’s arm so he’d release Jimmy. Then she whispered in his ear. “Jimmy is right. We need proof. He can aim the camera out to sea that way the flash won’t be seen.”
Jimmy took the photograph. The flash sparkled and glimmered for a second over the oncoming waves as it joined the silver staircase of the moon’s reflection and disappeared. Jimmy hung his camera around his neck and stretched his hand towards the body.
“Damien, take his feet.”
“No way! Look, I only have to do one more thing wrong and my father’s going to ship me off to London to live with my mum faster than I can blink.”
Abba grabbed hold of the body’s Hawaiian-print shirt, careful not to touch any skin, “My mum isn’t going to be pleased to hear about me being here either, but he was a human being and we can’t leave him for the fish or crocs.”
“That’s fine for you to say. You aren’t in danger of being sent to a stepfather who hates your guts and a mother who doesn’t remember you are on the planet,” muttered Damien grabbing hold of a soggy tennis shoe.
Abba barely heard his whingeing. She was thinking about how she did not want the body to roll over and stare at her with its glassy water-filled eyes. How, if its clammy cold skin touched hers, she’d faint. And how she wished she had never offered to show Jimmy Chadwick her secret.
“All together, pull,” she urged softly.
Slowly, quietly, they dragged the body onto the rocks trying to avoid touching any fleshy parts. It wasn’t easy. The gym shoe came off in Damien’s hand. The sucking noise of the sea trying to pull the body back made them all shiver. And the dark slick of blood from the head wounds as they dragged it under an overhanging ledge made Jimmy gag again.
“If you chuck up, they’ll hear you,” warned Abba.
Jimmy swallowed great gups of air and didn’t chuck up.
They were crawling across the rocks and Abba was about to suggest how they could get to the bikes without being seen when a torch beam lit up her face and a voice yelled. “There’s someone here.”
“Quick!!” screamed Abba as she scrambled over the rocks like a crab. “Get out of here.”
Damien leapt after her, but Jimmy turned and photographed the running man climbing the rocks after them. The flash blinded him, so Jimmy took three more photographs. Then while the man stopped to blink and rub his eyes, Jimmy scrambled after Abba and Damien.